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Happy New Year!
White dominates this month as top players used the Flank Openings to create unbalanced positions and play for a win. At the London Classic for example, the percentage of decisive results was significantly higher in games that started with 1 c4 or 1 Nf3 than those that began with 1 e4 or 1 d4. As a result of this focus, leading GMs are enriching the theory in many lines of the English and Réti.

Download PGN of January ’16 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 c6 3 Bg2 Bg4 [A07]

Sjugirov - Jakovenko opened with 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 c6 3 Bg2 Bg4 4 0-0 e6, which has a reputation of being very solid and reliable for Black. This makes White's convincing win in this game all the more surprising. White created a typical setup where both sides have isolated d-pawns and then started to restrict Black's minor pieces starting with 12 g4!:

Once Sjugirov secured a positional advantage, he played an almost flawless game which is an excellent illustration of White's ideas in this variation. This game should give players of the Black side much food for thought.

Réti Double Fianchetto v QGD setup 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 g3 d5 4 Bg2 Be7 5 0-0 0-0 6 b3 [A14]

Grischuk - Aronian saw some new ideas in the well known line starting 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 Be7 5.c4 0-0 6 b3 b6 7 Bb2 Bb7:

Instead of the normal slow build up starting with 8 e3, Grischuk went for a big pawn centre with 8 cxd5 Nxd5 9 d4 followed by 10 Re1 and 12 e4. White soon has a significant advantage which was only spoiled in time trouble.

King's English 1 c4 e5 2 d3 [A20]

In Grischuk - Anand, White managed to avoid heavy theory as early as the second move with 1 c4 e5 2 d3, angling for a reversed Najdorf:

Anand in turn opted for a reversed Grand Prix Attack setup with an early ...f5. Although he didn't achieve anything major out of the opening, Grischuk got the kind of game he was looking for and eventually prevailed.

Reversed Dragon 6 e3 [A22]

A modern treatment of the reversed Dragon starts with 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 g3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 Bg2 Nb6 and now 6 e3, which has only really taken off in the last five years or so. In Mamedyarov - Ganguly, Black unleashed a practically brand new approach with 7...Qd3!?:

It appears that both players had analyzed this line in depth at home, and were soon immersed in some irrational complications. Both sides went wrong in the ensuing craziness, but Mamedyarov emerged ahead and then converted a technical endgame.

King's English, Four Knights 4 e3 [A28]

After 1 c4 e5, Anish Giri has primarily been playing g3 lines recently, but in his first round game at the Qatar Masters he instead went for the line 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 e3. After 4...Bb4 5.Qc2 0-0 6 Nd5 Re8 7 Qf5 d6 8.Nxf6+ gxf6 we reach the following position:

This double-edged line was the initial testing ground for the 4 e3, 7 Qf5 variation, but has become a rare sight in tournament play. In Giri - Sunilduth, White played 9 Qc2 instead of 9 Qh5 which has been played far more often in practice. In a sharp game White came out on top, eventually mating his opponent on the weakened kingside.

Symmetrical Four Knights 6 g3 Qb6 7 Nbd5 Ne5 8 Bg2 [A33]

1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e6 6 g3 Qb6 is one of the main lines of the Symmetrical English, and now after 7 Ndb5 Ne5 8 Bg2 the theme of the hanging c4-pawn is one of the key issues in this variation. In Matlakov - Rambaldi, after 8...a6 9 Qa4 Rb8 White essayed 10 Na3!?:

White sacrificed the c-pawn after 10...Bxa3 11 Qxa3 Nxc4, and secured the two bishops plus pressure in return. After restoring material equality, Matlakov squeezed his opponent in an impressive endgame display.

Symmetrical English 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 e5 4 e3 Nf6 [A34]

Aronian - Vachier Lagrave started with the topical 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 e5 4 e3 Nf6 5 d4 e4 and now Aronian tried 6 d5 exf3 7 dxc6 reaching this position:

Here Black has a choice of three possible pawn captures, all of which are playable. MVL chose the best one with 7...dxc6!. Aronian got nothing from the opening and even had to be careful to hold the balance.

Symmetrical English 3...d5, 5 e4 [A34]

Aronian - Topalov started with the exciting line 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 e4 Nb4 6 Bc4 Nd3+ 7 Ke2 Nf4+ 8 Kf1 and here Black played the traditional main move 8...Ne6 rather than the recently trendy 8...Nd3. White continued in gambit style with 9 b4:

After 9...cxb4 Aronian chose 10 Nd5, and introduced a novelty with 13 Rc1. He soon had a large advantage after Topalov went for the wrong plan, and went on to win convincingly.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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